Thursday, 30 June 2016

Down and out

As I left things a few days ago, I was just watching Germany sparking to life with a dominant performance vs Slovakia to reach the Quarter-Finals. Then as expected, Belgium tore into Hungary and booked their own spot.

And so the following day England did there thing against Iceland. I was a picture of confidence, if not arrogance. I shook hands with a colleague, who I thought had stupidly bet me a tenner that Iceland would win. Easy money I thought. Even when we were losing 2-1, I confidently said to the missus that "It's fine. We're the better team, playing better football. We. Will. Win". And then it unravelled.

Where Germany engage their game-face and knuckle down into tournaments, England, irrespective of the exact personnel involved seem to collectively shit themselves. It was such a spectacular self-befouling from all angles:

  • From the studio, where Peter Crouch seemed to be having a live, pre-match breakdown about how England just couldn't cope and never achieved;
  • In the commentary box, where Hoddle seemed to be having another faith-healer moment, gibbering panicky phrase after panicky phrase before contradicting himself and panicking once more 
  • On then bench, where Hodgson seemed to have some sort of mental cataclysm that made him think Wilshire was the answer to the need for "more urgency and pace" (I have never seen a footballer swan about so much and look so slow - and this from a Villa fan who has seen the likes of Kevin Richardson, a 38-year old Robert Pires and Mattieu Berson littering our midfield)
  • On the pitch where Kane thought he was taking conversions, where Sterling thought that crossing a ball was a red card offence and where Hart thought that slathering his gloves with lubricant was a fine idea. What a shambles.
But we soldier on. As I say on all of the major competition blogs, I always enjoy the tournament more once England are out. I do fervently support us; but it just seems easier to relax and enjoy the football. For what it is worth, I think the usual debrief and talk of root and branch reform is tosh. We played well this tournament, better than I can ever remember us playing (save for '96 perhaps) - but we had a bad game and got caught out by a team with real hunger.

Before the England carnage, Italy reminded us of how a team can be more than the sum of its parts - putting in a fabulous display vs Spain and knocking them out.

Tonight I am expecting Ronaldo to help book Portugal's semi final place against Belgium, and playing himself yet further into form. I even think he might strike a free-kick on target...just a hunch.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Round of 16

Another hard-core weekend of sporting delight in the Birch household - starting yesterday with England's stunning efforts in the Rugby series against Australia. That, in truth was probably the best entertainment of the day.

Switzerland vs Poland had the look of a group game at best, and was a battle of 2 poor sides, which astoundingly Poland came out on top of. They looked very poor; yet I suppose are now dreaming of "doing a Greece" [winning a major tournament whilst being widely regarded as utter toilet]. And even then it was only really settled by a penalty miss that will see Jason Puncheon quietly smirking to himself.

Wales and Northern Ireland then played out a League One-esque affair with the own goal settling it. Nothing additional to say about that match.

And in the evening game, the most attractive of the three, there was something of a shock as Portugal ousted widely fancied Croatia. Certainly Portugal have the look of a team growing into the tournament. Ronaldo even relinquished a free-kick, letting one of his team mates instead take the set-piece [albeit under clear instructions not to shoot but to swing it in for Ronaldo's head]. They looked quite slick going forward, and more robust at the back than they had. Luca Modric, whilst looking alarmingly similar to Jay from The Inbetweeners failed to get a proper grip on the match and so that is that for Croatia.

Today's games are significantly more attractive. The early game saw Republic of Ireland taking a dramatic lead against France, only to be pegged back and easily overcome in the end. Griezmann doing the damage with two quick strikes ("Griezed lightening" as the headline tomorrow anyone?). It would have been more than just 2-1 if (a) Giroud wasn't just an awful striker, 1 in 5 chances at best and (b) Gignac wasn't just a carbon copy of Giroud in terms of mobility, ability to finish and so forth.

I'm settled now watching Germany coming to life. It is literally as if someone has just reminded them that this is the knockout phase of a major tournament, and suddenly therefore they become formidable.

Later I am fully expecting Hungary to be torn into complete ribbons bye a Belgium team rampant and eying a virtual bye to the final...

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A day for heroes

What a stunning day of tournament football!

Goals, shocks, drama and finally England caught a break by avoiding Portugal in the round of 16 - which we all know would have been a tetchy affair settled by a moment of Ronaldo magic. For this we have Iceland to thank; with their heroic last minute breakaway and goal which has launched their partisan commentator into audio folklore.

The afternoon sparked into life with both Hungary and Iceland taking the lead in their respective games - putting their opponents Portgual and Austria into real peril. Both games sprang to life as the losing teams fought for their lives. Portugal kept coming back against Hungary, with Ronaldo finally finding his shooting boots and even providing an assist (first time he has passed the ball all tournament). And Austria made a belated effort to contribute to the tournament, and it was as they pushed for a winner that they were caught with the Icelandic breakaway.

And so it is that England now face Iceland next Monday. I will arrogantly suggest that this is as near to a bye as you can get - certainly it is a less dangerous fixture than Portugal would have been.

The evening games didn't disappoint either. Ireland, fresh from their "you've got to make sacrifices...if that means getting a red card, get a red card" pep talk (by Roy Keane), took just 4 second to commit their first leveller foul. They set their stall out, with Jeff Hendrick, the Irish Totti, pulling the strings. Italy of course were probably bribed or coerced into losing or something and had made 8 changes, but it doesn't take away from Irelands stunning effort - joining Wales and Northern Ireland in the last 16. At several points, Martin O'Neill looked like he would literally explode. He can be a very, very cross and sweary man; and looks more and more incongruous in a track suit as he approaches his twilight years.

Belgium won the other game - this was end to end and highly entertaining also. I am mainly mesmerised by the Belgium kit though - what a strong kit that is. Really, genuinely good.
Their prize for them is to be in the 'plate' side of the draw. It's all opened up now, with Germany, Spain, Italy, England and France all in the same side of the draw - and the likes of Croatia, Belgium, Portugal in the other. Belgium, despite such a slow start may yet grow into the tournament and gel in time for the final.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Multi-multi tasking

The final round of group games always provides that unique opportunity to deploy the multi-screen set up. No action is more sure to get a shake of the head from the wife. And so it was, Spain vs Croatia & Turkey vs Czech Republic running in parallel in scenes of perfect football-consumption efficiency.

Inspired by concept of multiple-inputs, I thought I'd try the same approach with the drinks I was having too. I ran with a crisp Australian Chardonnay accompanied by a Becks Blue [Alcohol-free]. The net result - less visits to the fridge, and no need for paracetemol today.

The Czech Republic were a real disappointment, failing to capitalise on the opportunity presented to them by Croatia's late collapse a few days earlier. Any team failing to beat Turkey deserves to go no further in this tournament. Croatia themselves looked sublime. Peresic and Rakitic ran the show in the second half and earned a deserved group win. Spain looked pretty formidable and with Moratta up front, look way more balanced than they have for some time, which is a scary thought, given their 75% major tounrament win record over the past 8 years.

Earlier in the day Northern Ireland proved that this 3rd place malarky is a bit of a farce. If they're going to expand the tournament, I'd rather they went the whole hog, had 32 teams and so could at least do a round of 16 made up of teams who have done well, rather than some stragglers and hangers on. This is an opinion I have held ever since England ensured they didn't finish 3rd! 

Top half / bottom half

Well, I feel better now. Spain have also played their bungled group game card and England are in good company now.... And that's the problem - Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England all sitting in a mouthwatering side of the draw. Some epic games to come. 

And while we spend the next few days convincing ourselves " you have to beat the best to be the best lads", the north side of the draw has opened up like a Republican primary, primed for an upstart with no history to charge to the front of the pack. Croatia have looked impressive, barring a blip as their fans misbehaved, and look now well placed to go deep. But as I watched snippets of N Ireland being pounded by Germany, but somehow end up celebrating qualification to the next round, I have a sneaky feeling some unjust 3rd place team will cause some disruption, at least in the top half of the draw. Turkey or Sweden maybe... teams that in the first two games looked completely abject. While I applaud the attempt to expand the tournament, I just don't think 24 is a good tournament number. That Turkey can do anything but go home after their first two games just does not feel like tournament footie. 

A couple of crappy groups left to go now, but one which will determine England's next opponent. Then onto the fun stuff.

I must go now to watch USA's big football adventure against Argentina. The locals are pumped - they reckon this will be a more watched sporting event than the recent NBA finals. It might not be by the final whistle....the US trail 1-zip after only 8 mins.... Could be a long night

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Things I feel good about

There's much to feel good about right now:
  1. Stevie C being back on the blog. I was ploughing a lone furrow through these championships, looking listless and immobile (much like Jack Wilshire) until he showed up. Welcome back into the fold, Stevie.
  2. England's performance. We have looked excellent, in my opinion, in all 3 group games. Watching us has been relatively fun, and a massive step forward from the 100mph, Hollywood approach that blighted the past, golden-generation of players. If I'd watched Spain or Germany perform like we just have, I'd have them marked down as a real threat, as soon as they find their scoring boots.
  3. Wales getting through. Their 3-0 win against Russia saw them through as worthy qualifiers for the round of 16.

Things I worry deeply about:
  1. Wilshire playing any more minutes for our team.
  2. England facing Ronald-0 and seeing him slap in free kick after free kick to our net, whilst Hart fumbles around on his knees. Ronald-0 winking at the camera in an awful, yet effective, self-parody.
  3. Football being reduced to a game of 5 minutes duration on the basis that the first 85 minutes are meaningless.

We will score goals one day......

Ok, ok. I'm clearly late to the party, and for that Mr Birch, I apologise. And while I can roll out the excuses of time zones, family life and actual time needed to carve out to actually watch the footie (all of which are somewhat legitimate), there have been a series of events that have occurred in the last couple of weeks that should have awoken me from my blogging slumber....

The Highlights So Far:

  • Incredible "tickling of de ballz" by Herr Low
  • Just the most concerted on field and off field effort by any team ever, to get ejected from a tournament. Well played Russia.... can't wait for that world cup thingy you have in a couple of years
  • The 'let's put Harry Kane on set pieces' experiment
  • No team yet, really stamping their mark on the tournament - this thing looks wide open 
  • A ridiculous portion of goals being scored in the last 5 mins or so. Has me thinking I'm watching an NBA game. 
  • Wonderful, consistent support from the Irish, both north and south
  • Consistent loons attaching themselves to England 
  • England flattering to deceive (more of that later)


Yeah I know what you're thinking. All a bit easier to lay out some predictions as we're deep into group matches. But thankfully, I already put my money down before the tournament, so here's the run down:

The Good: Spain to win the tournament (5/1)
The oh my goodness Good: Spain to win, Morata to be top goalscorer (66/1)
The pessimistic England fan bet Good: Wales to make the semi finals (11/1)

The Bad: Thomas Muller to be top goal scorer.....
The potentially Ugly: France to win, Muller to be top goalscorer

So in summary, it's all going very well so far, apart from the fact Germany forgot to pack a goal-scoring threat in their suitcases so far. Maybe redemption is only a blow out trouncing of N. Ireland away... I'm trying not get carried away with Spain just yet, but Turkey made them look very impressive, and they have just as few faults in their team as the other main contenders... 


I have to say, we've played some decent stuff. Now, coming off my third season of watching Roberto Martinez football, it turns out that for this to be effective as well as nice to watch, you need to score goals, and not concede any....otherwise you slip into a mid-table abyss of underachievement (sorry Birchy, I know this pales in comparison to your travails this season). And herein, so far, lies the problem:

- While we've kept it relatively tight against teams with zero attacking ambition, the trio of Smalling, Cahill & Hart just scream calamity about to happen. It almost happened today vs Slovakia, and you can mark Hart's attempt at saving Bale's free kick in that category also. Not at fault for the Russia goal, but you do feel that a more organized backline would have dealt better with that late cross. 

- Roy has packed his squad with strikers. And it shows. We just look unbalanced and lack width - a real draw back against teams that sit back and defend (ie, all our opponents so far). In his defence, I don't think I can claim he left a world beater at home - I think it's just a dearth of talent in key areas, which results in square pegs in round holes. 

- Jordan Henderson is not even a square peg. 

- It's not all bad. The full backs have played well, and I think Rooney in his deeper role has been relatively successful, although he tried too hard today. I still like Jamie Vardy in the team - he just gives you that something different and constant goal threat. You know 9 times out of 10 he would put those chances away that he had today, and against teams that actually attack, he will be a big threat. 

- Eric Dier. Mysteriously, he was temporarily on the books at Everton. Well played there lads...looks a great coaching call to let him move on. Hands down, the best player & a great free kick to boot. Dare I say, while it's not sexy, he could be in the running for player of the tournament so far. 

The Americana Experience:

So, things are going fine this side of the Atlantic, all of the games are being televised on ESPN, with some notable highlights:
  • So far, it appears Alexi Lalas' contract has not been renewed. I'm sure he will appear at some point, but so far, so good. 
  • An amusing chuckle each time expert panelist "Premier league manager for the last 7 years, Roberto Martinez..." is introduced. A subtle dance around the current employment status of the poor man. 
  • The time difference just is terrible. Games during the week are kicking off at 9am, 12pm and 3pm. At least the concentration of late goals has meant the well-timed casual jaunt to the common area for caffeine boost has included some cracking goal highlights. Beyond annoying that England's 2nd place finish now means a game on a Monday, vs a Saturday... 
  • It's wall to wall football. You may not be aware, but the Copa America is also being played right now. This means that the daytime Euro action is being supplemented by evenings of Chile vs Argentina and Peru vs Brazil.... ok, the latter doesn't sound great, but Peru actually knocked Brazil out! The US and Mexico are included in this version (it's really a corrupt, money making effort to "celebrate" the South American tournament's 100 year history). It may seem a cynical view, but the FIFA / Concacaf folk behind the tournament being organized are now spending most of their time with lawyers, and the tournament  is being held in the U.S., a country with nothing to do with the competition... That said, the footie is good. Chile spanked Mexico 7-0 the other day, and the locals are getting excited as the U.S. has gradually improved through the tournament to make the semi finals (where inevitable failure against Argentina awaits)
So, that's me caught up I think. I can now leave and return to my darkened room and try to figure out the random number generator that is UEFA's third place team qualification rules, and try to work out how I explain the concept to my American work colleagues who are still asking why the group games are not going to extra time.... 


Sunday, 19 June 2016


Not sure if any of the papers used that headline, but I quite liked it. An astonishing match last night, with Austria hanging on for dear life as Ronaldo spurned chance after chance. Funny though it was, I still expect CR7 to have an impact on the tournament. Hungary's charmed life is certain to come crashing down in a few days I expect.

Iceland against Hungary was a battle of the dodgy keepers, with Gabor Kiraly coming out well and truly on top (in terms of being dodgy). Iceland will feel aggrieved, but just need a win against hapless Austria (which I don't expect they will get) to progress. Austria, have put themselves in a spot though, by losing to Hungary...and by my reckoning they will finish below Hungary regardless of the results now, because of the head-to-head. A shame in some ways because they have a couple of decent players (Alaba, Arnoutovic) who I'd like to see more of.

Today was a bit of a head wreck, no 2pm or 5pm games to I had to settle for a lovely day with my family!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Football anywhere

I am old enough to remember when tournaments required serious carful planning. Grainy pictures and appalling sound from Mexico in 86. No catch up TV or wifi. It was only when I was walking from the barbers back to my house this afternoon that it really struck home. I'd watched the first 10 minutes of Belgium vs R. O. Ireland on their freest box, and then watched via 4G on my mobile for the 5 minute walk home, before watchinghte rest via Virgin TV. The availability is amazing. It will be a sad day when it is all stuck behind pay-per-view ; as I am sure it will be one day.

Yesterday's games offered some drama and some class. Italy looked a shadow of the team that was so competent and fluid in their first game, but scored a cracking late goal to put them past shotless (in the tournament) Sweden. Then came the odd game. Croatia vs Czech Republic - ending 2-2 after Croatia were coasting to victory. Their fans turning on themselves in a barrage of fists and firecrackers, causing the game to be halted, focus to be lost and the Czechs did the rest. This opens up the group enormously and leaves the promising Croatia in real danger of finishing 3rd in the group.

Spain shoed their class in the evening game winning 3-0 vs Turkey. Whilst their midfield is not as sublime as it once was, they still managed a 20 odd pass move involving 10 outfield players in the lead up to a goal. They've also not conceded for 10 games now, making them seem formidable opponents.

The early game today saw Belgium finally come to life, thrashing Ireland 3-0 and starting to look like the attacking force that they clearly are. Ireland played pretty well but were outclassed. I'm sorry to say that Villa's influence was once again present, with Clark's ludicrous lunge essentially making the second goal a dead cert and ending Irish hopes in the game.

I'm now watching Iceland vs Hungary - certainly one for the purists at the outset, but Hungary will be through with a win, and Iceland, keeper aside, look a half decent unit too. If Austria can somehow get a result later again Portugal then this group will be complete chaos.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Shocks and relief

Since I last posted, France avoided the potential ignominy of drawing nil-nil with Albania by slotting two good late goals. Payet again sealed the match with a good finish and is absolutely deserving of his "player of the tournament so far" label.

Then yesterday we had the big England vs Wales match. I spent the most part of the morning scanning my inbox for the all-staff email to announce the office would be closing and that we'd be having a colossal football party in the afternoon. Nothing happened. A lowly TV was wheeled out (like being in science class at school); and then a laggy stream was soundlessly put on. Obviosuly I made my own arrangements, supported by the 4G network so as not to drain company bandwidth - and I watched on as England went in to battle.

Things I realised:
  • That the BBC really can do an excellent rousing programme opening sequence. It brought goose bumps, and made me desperately want the team to do well
  • Aaron Ramsey is really annoying. From his ridiculous hairstyle (a nod to a Romanian World Cup team of old, or just peroxide accident). He fouled constantly and thought he was Robbie Savage also, which was deeply irritating.
  • The BBC's Welsh commentators seemed to have a serious loss of perspective, labelling Bale as the best player in Europe and suggesting that handball doesn't count if the player is looking elsewhere.
  • That England are actually pretty good. They are playing with an assurance and dominating games. I like our current team.
  • That despite Hart's error for the Wales goal, I would never swap keepers with Iceland.
A super result in the end, and good to see Vardy and Sturridge both getting into the competition. I am sure that they, as well as Kane and Sturridge will continue to feature going forward. And nice to hear people being positive about our team again.

The only downside is that our group remains very much open - all 4 teams still able to go through. Certainly if we blow it against Slovakia, we need to do so by one goal only. Or we need to pray for a draw between Wales and Russia- that would see us through.

Northern Ireland followed up our game with a simply cracking result against Ukraine; 2-0. This sets them up for an incredibly tough final match against Germany, who could only draw 0-0 with Poland. That group also remains very much alive going into the final games.

And so the weekend approaches which means a full schedule of games today and tomorrow and the first of the group deciders on Sunday.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A very good last 24 hours

Portugal vs Iceland last night was an absolute treat. I was convinced it was going to be the first outright whooping of the tournament; but the combination of Ronaldo's ego and Iceland's spirit put paid to that. Portugal absolutely bossed the game, but CR7s repeated refusal to pass to better placed (and talented) teammates, meant that the majority of possession and forward moves resulted in speculative efforts as opposed to guilt-edged chances.

I really liked how Iceland, and Sigurdsson in particular put the boot in, big time. Poor Pepe was desperate to lash out.

And the good game last night tee'd up 2 more today. The games today have served to open up groups A and B really nicely. England now have an insurance policy against a Wales defeat - thanks to Slovakia turning over Russia. By my reckoning we could lose to Wales (rendering them group winners) and then would need to beat Slovakia by a bigger margin than Russia beating Wales in the final game. Not a terrible scenario to be in, were we to be in it. Slovakia looked decent and scored two good goals.

Then this afternoon a 1-1 between the Swiss and Romania, meaning both teams are still in with a shout going into the final game, which is good.

I'm now watching France struggle to overcome Albania (at HT). The tournament is warming up, no nil-nil's to date, and if tonight was the first then it would be a dramatic one.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Teams with personality

I had an interesting chat with a mate at work today who had tipped Croatia to win the tournament. I thought it a bit of a bold call, and he said that they have a good chance because of their similarity of style and cohesion as a team. This in contrast to team like Belgium, who have good player on paper - but most of whom play for teams with hugely differing styles.

Italy fall into the same sort of category as Croatia in my opinion. They have an identity as a national team, and don;t just appear as a transient group of players. The Italian style is predictable but effective. Solid and if necessary brutal defenders (they clocked up 3 stone-wall yellows for professionnal fouling); slick midfield play; and strikers who aren;t all that good but manage to get goals (Pelle's was excellent).

I enjoyed the game very much - probably the best of the tournament. Italy celebrated it in true overblown passion fashion with scenes as if they'd just won the whole thing. I think there is probably a bit more needle with Belgium or its players than I understand.

Monday, 13 June 2016


So I remembered about the blog thing only when the tournament kicked off, so I didn't get chance to put down my predictions.

I am expecting strong performances from France (expect them to get 9 pts in the group and to look increasingly attacking in doing so); England (yes I said it), Germany (obvs), Spain and Italy.

Now, looking at the tournament structure, I get France and Italy (having beaten Germany in the QFs) as being in one semi final - which I think France will win.

The other semi, I reckon will be made up of England and Spain. Blind optimism tells me England will do it - only to fall to hosts France in the final.

There - I've contradicted my last post's prediction already - but I'd picked out Italy without first having checked what a nightmare route they might have to the final. Indeed more than one group, including England's arguably looks better to get out of in second place, assuming the big boys all win their groups...


The grim realities of adulthood and parenthood hot home today. Normally speaking I would find a way to watch all 3 fixtures on a weekday - whether that be via careful radio silence and recording of games, taking annual leave or some other creative means. But today I was very much unable to watch the first game. 

The annoying 5pm kick off time of the second matches pretty much rules out UK workers from catching the start of games also, it really would have been better for the night games to be back to back at 6 and 8 UK time (7 and 9 French time).

As I gather, Spain were worthy winners and from what I saw of R.O. Ireland vs Sweden, it looked an even contest. Good to see Villa stamping their mark of calamity on the tournament with Clark's nicely taken own-goal. Both those teams are too workmanlike for my liking.

And so with the baby bathed and asleep and the missus relegated to the iPad, I settle down for Belgium against my predicted tournament winners Italy...both teams surely have a good chance.

> 1 goal

I was starting to tire of team only scoring 1 goal in matches, so well done Germany for getting that second goal at the death last night. They thoroughly deserved it, and like Spain today and both Croatia and Poland yesterday they did rather run the risk of being the better team but failing to come away with the points. Ukraine made a good game of it, and were unlucky not to perhaps grab that equaliser, with some later pressure.

My attentions were distracted by the Canadian grand prix, requiring some careful multitasking. A satisfying evening though and a decent first weekend with the results looking more cagey than the games actually were.

Line em up

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Goal of the tournament?

Two games today that followed the same pattern as the England one - near-total dominance from one side, but a narrow 1-0 lead only to show for it. Croatia and Poland respectively held on where England did not - though hardly surprising considering the near zero threat that both Turkey and especially Northern Ireland posed.

Modric's goal was sumptuous and brightened an otherwise fairly dull afternoon of football (ruined primarily by Northern Ireland looking every bit like one of the 'additional' teams allowed into this year's tournament.

As a nod to German efficiency, I will be watching their game tonight in full multi-screen style, with the Grand Prix on the main telly and footy on an iPad. Needs must.

Oh England!

Some things will just never change.  England team and 'England' hooligans.

The hooligans at least offered no pretence that anything would be different - immediately springing into brainless action. Absolute bile the lot of them - I hate how our national sport and team is in any way associated with these people.

The team though was a much more complex beast. It is too easy to trot out the "same old England" line; despite the infuriating opening game draw that seems to afflict us at virtually all tournaments. But what we saw for 91.5 minutes was a classy England performance, a well balanced team, pace, ambition and a fair deal of spirit.

We've got two total banana skin encounters to follow now - but I know that with performances of the same intensity we will sail through both. The issue of course is that the players all have a significant mental issue to deal with. The body language at the end of the game, understandably, was as if they had just lost the final on penalties - abject disappointment. They'd every right to be gutted, but need to move on fast.

That closed out the first full day, and I'm now in the throes of Turkey vs Croatia (baby is asleep...well timed) - which is a bit chaotic, but not quite living up to the expectations I had.

Later is Northern Ireland against Poland and Ukraine against Germany. We all know Germany are going to shrug off their poor form and become an indestructible machine - as inevitable as poor England suffering an early disappointment.

The wall chart is now in place, everything seems right with the world.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Day 2 - Albania are involved

Ok, so I spent most of the day forgetting that Albania were not in fact Algeria. I had expected them to turn Switzerland over (if they were indeed Algeria).

Before anyone says it, I know Algeria is in Africa, and I know I did a Geography degree. But if Australia perform in the Eurovision, then anything is possible.

View from behind the jumparoo

Anyway - the lunchtime game was definitely one for the purists, not a huge draw for the casual fan I don't expect. But, that said, it was decent. Albania gifted the Swiss an early goal and held on despite valiant attempts by Albania to turn it around. The Swiss, I expect have given themselves an excellent chance of making it to the round of 16 (and thus ensuring that match is boring. I really do dislike their workmanlike and uncreative brand of football).

Then this afternoon the treat that was Wales vs Slovakia. What a game. Proper football, end-to-end, goals, controversy, woodwork hit, and a true superstar. Bale looks like he is bang up for being a hero in this tournament, which spells trouble for England, but could be fun. Slovakia were fair game too and unlucky to lose the game. They too will pose a threat to England. That said, if England perform well in the attacking third, then neither Slovakia or Wales have done anything to demonstrate they could cope.

The shift in my lifestyle was stark today - as I deposited the baby in the "jumparoo". This is the plastic monstrosity in the photo above. Also dubbed "the circle of neglect" - it is a truly amazing device that seems to occupy children for precisely 45 minutes at a time, happily bouncing away, and spinning plastic animals around whilst I watch the footy...

Friday, 10 June 2016

Opening game

So first I should say that I rather fluked the timings. I think (unless I have re-invented the course of events) that I had actually booked my holiday before realising the potential overlap with the tournament. That moment of utter horror as I clicked the "pay now" button and then realised I may have just made a bad mistake was then followed by a big scramble to find a fixture list.

I won.

The only match I would miss would be the opener - France vs Romania. Of all the games to be in rural France for, this was the one. My track record with French TV is not good. I normally spend the first 4 hours of any holiday in France cycling through the 400 odd satellite channels that all houses there seem to have, only to get reception to about 3 channels - none of which ever show sport.

This time around, I did my research - targeted the necessary channels - and then, (and only then), picked up the remote.

TF1 was the second channel I found, and in that short moment I got confirmation that an unlikely clean sweep of football watching was well and truly on!

Things I learned:
  • TF1 shows and absolute f&*k tonne of adverts
  • All of these adverts seem to be for cars
  • Or electronic gates behind which you'd park one of these cars
  • Or aftershave that you'd apply, before heading out in your new car
  • The French should give opening ceremonies a miss (it was poor; though credit to them for keeping it brief).
Then in the game itself I learned that France have a shocking defence. I thought they'd win the tournament until I saw their laboured attempts to deal with opposition attacks. Good teams will surely expose both fullbacks as well as the poor Rami. I also learned that Giroud leads a charmed life - being selected for both Arsenal and his country when he is a 1 in 8 type striker, constantly missing good chances. How much better did they look once Martial and Coman were on the pitch.

Obviously it was Payet who stole the show, a masterly performance in midfield, pulling the strings and looking every bit the Man Utd/PSG player he will doubtless be in 6 weeks' time...

A promising start.

Euro 2016 kicks off

And so here we are - another summer football tournament and a full month of televisual pleasure. This time around the added challenge (and of course joy) of having a <1 year old baby makes the potential for total spherical saturation a bit less of a certainty. Nonetheless - I am nothing if not a tryer - so here we go for a few weeks of charting my struggles through the tournament.

Any followers of will know that I don't do this alone, my trusty USA-based Stevie normally joins in the ride. For the last World Cup he dipped back into the fold and I am hoping that the dual vices of both watching football and then writing blogs about it lures him back in.

This time around I spent the opening day of the tournament in the host country - France. Not in a fan-park or in a major city throwing chairs and getting tear-gassed - but rather in Bergerac calmly sipping wine and eating barbequed meat. But nonetheless it was a pleasure to watch the build up and opening match in the home tongue... more about what I learned ion the next post.